Brief executive function training for individuals with severe mental illness: Effects on EEG synchronization and executive functioning

Schizophr Res. 2019 Jan:203:32-40. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2017.08.052. Epub 2017 Sep 19.


Background: Executive Functioning (EF) is an important factor for community functioning for people with severe mental illness. Cognitive remediation programs often improve EF, but do so by using multiple therapeutic techniques. Little is known regarding how individual treatment elements promote cognitive improvement. Oscillatory brain activity is a potential neurophysiological mechanism that may change as a result of targeted training on computerized exercises. The current study aimed to examine the effects of a brief EF training program on EEG and neurocognitive measures.

Methods: 25 people with severe mental illness were randomized to either 2weeks of computerized EF training or control training. Training consisted of 1h training sessions 3 times per week and 40min of daily home training. Assessments examined EEG theta and alpha band oscillatory power during EF tasks and neurocognitive measures of EF.

Results: EF training resulted in greater frontal theta power and reduced posterior alpha power during computerized EF tasks than control training. Power in the alpha frequency band over frontal electrode sites did not significantly differ between the two groups as a result of training. Additionally, participants in the EF training experienced significantly greater improvement in EF ability as measured by neurocognitive tests than the control condition.

Conclusions: Two weeks of EF training is sufficient to produce neurophysiological and neurocognitive change. Frontal theta power and posterior alpha power may be important neurophysiological markers to consider in cognitive remediation studies, and the addition of a brief executive function training procedure to other psychosocial interventions is worth examining.

Keywords: Cognitive remediation; EEG; Executive functioning; Memory; Schizophrenia; Severe mental illness.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / complications
  • Bipolar Disorder / therapy*
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / therapy*
  • Cognitive Remediation / methods*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / complications
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Electroencephalography Phase Synchronization / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychotherapy, Brief
  • Psychotic Disorders / complications
  • Psychotic Disorders / therapy*
  • Schizophrenia / complications
  • Schizophrenia / therapy*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted
  • Young Adult